Thursday, February 26, 2009


It is unusual for me to start a project and not finish it. In the first place, I live in a little house with no storage space. In the second place, I usually get so excited about whatever the project is that I just have to finish it - even if I have to stay up all night. (That strategy sent me to the emergency room once with a needle through my finger from the sewing machine - but you get the idea - I was excited to get it done...)

At the moment, however, I find myself with some UFOs (Unfinished Objects...). Here's the first.

Summer House Wallpaper
This palette and these fabrics are a far cry from my usual jubilant explosions of color. But each and every of these fabrics reminds me of the layers of faded flowery wallpaper in the 200 year old house in Maine where my family vacationed during my childhood summers. The blocks are cut, and as you can see, up on the design wall. All that's left is the sewing.

This is my favorite fabric of the bunch - look at the kitchen things on the bottom block.

I'll likely stipple this quilt to give it an older feeling, and right now, I'm seeing it backed and bound with a solid pale sage fabric - but who knows how many times I'll change my mind between now and then.

Orange Jacket
My sister has the original orange jacket. I liked it so much I cut enough blocks for two but I haven't had time to assemble mine yet.

The Wool Quilt

This is what happens when you mistakenly felt your favorite sweater without meaning to. The centers of each of these blocks started life as a sweater. A handknit-by-me-with-expensive-yarn sweater. And boy, was I cranky when it came out of the dryer.

However, at about the same time, I acquired a box of solid wool fabrics. And my fabric stash had a ton of plaid flannels. So this is what happened when it all came together. Except it isn't done - this is only half of this quilt. When I get this top pieced, I'm going to have to hire someone to quilt it for me because no joke, it will weigh about 8 pounds. It's really, really, really heavy. And once we put it on the bed we will 1. never get out from under it and 2. always know where the cat is.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why I'm not ready for spring, and knitting is a good thing

Two years ago, I made a New Years Resolution to try things I never did before. Skiing was on the list. I really did want to try, but I never expected to actually like it. I don’t like to be cold, and I really don’t like to fall down, and skiing involves both. I knew Bruce wanted to snowboard, and I figured that I could go with him, take a skiing lesson, say I’d tried it and then make excuses to do something else when he wanted to go off and snowboard. A win-win situation – he could snowboard, and I could be warm and unscathed.

I’m not going to bore you with any smarmy descriptions about the feeling of freedom, or the wind rushing past, or the crisp clean first run on an untouched freshly groomed slope. But I’ve discovered that it’s fun. And hard. And it takes a lot of concentration. And if I concentrate, I can do it.

We're on our third season as pass-holders at a little family-owned ski area 30 minutes from us. It’s small, but big enough to have a good ski school, a decent lodge, plenty of parking, and friendly employees. If we get up at 6, we can be the first ones on the lift in the morning. And we have been – every weekend since the first flakes hit the ground. I usually have the green slopes completely to myself for a lovely, untouched 20 minutes or so, before anyone else rides the chair lift at all. I even beat the ski patrol up the mountain on some mornings. Bruce disappears to the black slopes – the difficult runs – and shows up an hour or so later, sweaty and disheveled and grinning like the Cheshire cat.

I’m no ball of fire, but I'm pretty good with my parallel turns and getting better at carving. My instructor commented at how much progress I’ve made like he was surprised. But I know the truth – and that is that I know how to practice. All those years of violin practice prepared me for skiing. A whole new world has opened for us – one that involves watching the weather, checking the ski reports, and a ski rack on the Subaru.

This year, my New Year's Resolution was to ski a blue slope. And I have - checked that off the list two weeks ago during a 4 day expedition to Stratton. I enjoy knowing that, 3 years before age 50, I can ski an intermediate slope, grinning ear to ear.

Here we are on the summit at Stratton, just off from the gondola. Do I have the coolest ski jacket or what?

For the record, it's not that I don't like spring. Really, I do. Just not yet, ok? I'm not done with the ski season. If you're chilly, put on a nice warm sweater (if you can get it out from under the cat...)

Knitting for the Gauge-Challenged

I have a love-hate relationship with knitting. I love yarn. I love the feeling of it, the colors, the texture and all things knitted. What I hate is measuring. And figuring out the rassafrassing gauge for knitting patterns drives me absolutely to distraction.

Then I discovered Lopi yarn. Ahhhh. These are the big chunky yarns that icelandic knitters use in greys and browns to make the traditional icelandic knit sweaters. You know, these. This yarn is easy to work with, and that pesky gauge - easy peasy when it's 3 stitches to the inch.

But those earth tone colors are not for me. I've made this sweater several times. The pink is mine, the blue is Bruce's. And I have a yellow one that I'm thinking of passing on to my sister because the sleeves are too short for me...

My current knitting project is to resolve an argument. You see, my mother made this wonderful tweed knit sweater for Bruce last year for Christmas. But it's too heavy to wear in the house, so whenever he takes it off and lays it down somewhere, this is what happens:

Clearly, Jack needs his own "sweater" so that Bruce can have his back. So I'm using the leftover yarn from this one, and a few others, and making the cat his own blanket. Problem solved.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Improvisational Quilting

A number of years ago, I took a quilting class with Denyse Schmidt. You can read all about Denyse and her fiber career on her website - she's a talented designer and she's managed to assemble an awesome quilting business. She teaches classes in what she calls improvisational quilting. You take a big old bag of scraps, reach into it without looking, and use whatever you pull out of it.

It's an interesting approach, and after taking her class, I played around with the concept and did some strip quilts using this technique. This one is my favorite - and although this photo is poorly lit, I fell in love with the color Cheddar because of it. We have this quilt displayed in our living room today.

This year, Denyse is teaching a course in Advanced Improvisational Quilting. Again, you can read all about it on her site, but in the meantime, I'm working on my pre-class homework. We have to come prepared with a set of improvised blocks - so here's what's currently in the works.

Obviously, I'm all about the reds.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Studio Tour

This is my room. We call it the quilt room, but really, it has all of my creative stuff in it. I thought I'd provide a little tour today, as I get myself reacquainted with it.

The first thing you see at the top of the stairs as you walk in is my sewing machine. It's a lovely Bernina, and I have a nifty sewing table that will let me sew completely flat (as shown here) or with the sewing arm exposed (if I raised the lower platform to table height). I usually leave the machine set as shown, because it's most convenient for quilting.

Here is the view beyond my sewing machine. It's a cold slushy day today, but within the next 3 months, the lake (which looks like white snow but is really ice in this pic) will rise and the water level will be even with the top of the stone wall across the cove. That's our ice-locked dock you see in the lower left of frame. Today is a perfect day to be in the studio.

I keep my ironing board set to the same level as my sewing table. When I'm working on blocks, I can swivel my (incredibly comfortable work chair) between the sewing machine and the iron without having to stand up or change work levels.

The baskets on my sewing table are full of scraps - part of the preparation blocks I'm working on for my upcoming design class in May. More about that in another post.
Opposite the windows in my studio is the fabric wall. Originally, this was a bedroom and the double bed used this wall as a headboard. I put my secondary work table here with fabric floor to ceiling on one side and quilt and design books on the other. The objects hanging from the cabinet doors are lovely handmade paper dolls that I brought back from Japan in 1993. The colors have faded but they came from the Berami Doll Shop in Matsumoto - a store I wish I'd been able to spend a lot more time and money in when I was there.
In case you thought my fabric stash was a little small, here's what's inside those cabinets. Some of it is organized by color, some by origin (for example, I have two shelves of Senegalese cloth, one of Japanese fabrics, and another of Hawaiian materials. And don't get me started on the antique kimonos with the hand painted silk linings...). I have a lot of fabric. To the right of the fabric wall is my design wall. I covered the entire wall with five yards of white felt, stapled to the original horrible paneling. This wall is where I do my big design work before I sew.

The wall opposite my design wall is the storage wall. The original homeowners built drawers into the walls, under the eaves when they dormered out this floor of the house. These drawers, and the closet, house the rest of it all - paper, paints, threads, yarn, beads, scrapbook stuff, buttons, ribbons, and all the rest.

It's a good room. I hope to see more of it this year.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Writing Projects

I've decided that in the spirit of creativity, I'm going to make several of my blurb books available to the public.

The Great State O'Maine is a photo essay of our family trip to Acadia and Swans Island several summers ago. Proceeds from this book will be donated to the Swans Island Library, which was destroyed by fire in the summer of 2008.

Fisk Farm and Beyond was compiled from a variety of sources including the Isle La Motte Historical Society, and family papers from both the Andrews and Fisk family homes. All proceeds from sale of this book will be donated to the Isle La Motte Preservation Trust in memory of Violet Vaughn Fitch.

I have a couple other writing projects in the works...more to come as they move forward.

Welcome to my alleged renaissance

Last year was a wash for me. The stress of my day job meant that I had little time and no emotional fortitude to do anything creative. I suffered because of it. I managed a few interesting creative projects - most notably some clever birthday cakes, both of which involved significant marzipan and lots of food coloring:
April Garden Cake for Bruce's Grandmother's 93rd Birthday

Safari Cake for the Great May Birthday Celebration

(whereupon war broke out over who got the blue hippo...go figure...)

This year, however, I'm planning on getting back into my studio and doing something less fattening in the creative department.

Here's a sneak preview - for the last 4 years, my eldest godchild and I have taken a lampworking class together to celebrate her birthday. I have no idea what I'm going to do with the collection of handmade beads I've created, but here are a few photos of some of the more choice pieces:

Join me, as I attempt to keep myself motivated, not just with some quilting projects, but with some other creative endeavors as well. Stay tuned, and I'll attempt to share what I'm working on, and what I'm finding inspiring.

And please, if you see something that inspires you - will you share?